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By Thomas Wheeler

I don't know if it could be considered one of the iconic hallmarks of a popular, long-running toy line (with no shortage of media outlets), but I do think it's interesting to note that one of the marks of some of the notable concepts has been the fact that the good guys have ended up with more than one distinct group of enemies.

While the Transformers tended to remain pretty much the Autobots and the Decepticons within the toy line, the animated series did deal with the addition of the Quintessons, as well as the massive threat of Unicron in the animated movie. The ThunderCats had several groups of enemies over their history. And then there's G.I. Joe. While certainly Cobra was the primary enemy, you had Destro develop his Iron Grenadiers, there were the Headhunters, the Lunartix Aliens, the sometimes-enemy-sometimes-ally in the Oktober Guard, and if you want to look to Europe, you had the Red Shadows.

And then we come to Masters of the Universe. While the main adversary was certainly Skeletor and his assorted minions, the distinct threat of Hordak and his Evil Horde turned up, and so did the reptilian menace of the SNAKE MEN, another one of whom by the name of SNAKE FACE has slithered his way into the Masters of the Universe Classics action figure line.

Snakes, and admittedly reptiles in general, don't fare especially well in pop culture. G.I. Joe's main enemy is called Cobra. The main adversary of the ThunderCats, Mumm-Ra, had an emblem that was an intertwined snake with a head at each end. In the DC Universe, there's an evil cult called Kobra. The Marvel Universe has had to deal with an ancient evil object known as the Serpent Crown from time to time. You just don't find much in the way of good-guy snake-type characters.

So, when a group known as the Snake Men were introduced to the Masters of the Universe line, it was a fair bet that they weren't showing up to perform great heroic deeds of valor. And brother, they sure weren't.

Although the Snake Men didn't see a lot of time in the original animated series, being introduced rather late in the game, they were certainly the focal point of the second season of the 2002-era animated series, where they came on the scene and their malevolence was immediately evident in that their ruler, King Hssss, started out by EATING WHOLE the brother of Zodak!

Let's consider the history of the Snake-Men, and then have a look at Snake Face in particular.

Released later in the original franchise's run, there was considerable retconning to work the Snake Men into the existing Masters of the Universe mythos.

In the distant past the Snake Men were a vast, ruthless army that conquered numerous worlds, and served an evil ruler named King Hiss. Hiss and the Snake Men tried to conquer Eternia, and created Snake Mountain as their base of operations. However, the Elders of Eternia proved too powerful for the Snake Men and used their magic to cast Hiss and his army into a limbo-like dimension. This caused the empire of the Snake Men to collapse, although a small number of them remained on Eternia. Eventually, Hiss was set free by Skeletor, who had made Snake Mountain his base.

Hiss and Skeletor form an uneasy alliance against He-Man, the greatest opposition to their mutual dreams of conquest. Skeletor's Snake Man minion, Kobra Khan, serves as his ambassador to King Hiss. Together the two villains were able at one point to trap He-Man. They attempted to use their combined magic to pull the entire Snake Man army back into Eternia, but even their combined magical abilities united are only strong enough to return two snake soldiers: Tung Lashor and Rattlor, who had been on Etheria in the employ of the Horde. Realizing that they need more potent magic to resurrect the entire army, Hiss and Skeletor take He-Man's Power Sword, and attempt to use it to summon forth all the Snake Men. However, He-Man is able to free himself and recover his sword, foiling the return of the reptilian hordes.

Despite their initial failure, King Hiss and Skeletor move forward with their plans of conquest. The two villains once again combine their magic to raise three great towers that had been buried eons ago by the Elders of Eternia. The Elders had sunk the towers below the earth to ensure that they would never fall into the hands of the Snake Men or any other evil forces. The three towers were Grayskull Tower, which possesses the power of good, Viper Tower, possessing the power of evil and Central Tower which possesses the power of both. Hiss and Skeletor both secretly plan to betray each other once they have taken control of the towers. Though Skeletor is unable conquer Central Tower, a feat which would have given him the power of all three towers, King Hiss is able to seize Viper Tower. Using the magic of Viper Tower he is able to transport two more Snake Men from limbo, Snake Face and Sssqueeze.

Not long after, in a battle in Viper Tower, He-Man turns all the Snake Men into stone, by reflecting Snake Face's power of petrifaction back at them. Snake Face and Sssqueeze appear in the later mini-comic "Energy Zoids".

Later He-Man and the Sorceress venture into Eternia's past, to the time when the Snake Men originally invaded Eternia. Witnessing the Snake Men terrorizing a village He-Man wants to step in, however the Sorceress prevents him, as his interference could alter history. However, unbeknownst to the Sorceress, Skeletor had followed them through the time stream. Upon arriving he joins forces with King Hiss, saying that he wishes to help them and that his magic powers could help destroy the Elders. King Hiss accepts Skeletor offer and thinking to himself "Perhaps this is an emissary from the Unnamed One whom we serve". The full meaning of this statement is never disclosed. The Snake Men rode into battle on the backs of mechanically augmented dinosaurs.

Seeing that Skeletor had entered the past, the Sorceress decides that it is necessary for He-Man to become involved, disguising him with her magic, she sends He-Man into battle against Skeletor, King Hiss and the Snake Man army. However, before the battle can conclude a shadowy figure, He-Ro, intervenes. Using magic he hurls Skeletor, the Sorceress and He-Man back to the future. The final fate of the Snake Men is never revealed at the time, as the Masters of Universe toyline and its accompanying mini comics came to end.

However, the modern mini-comics do provide a resolution. In the storyline that finally reveals the "Second Ultimate Battleground", Skeletor and his forces actually unite with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, to defeat the combined forces of the Snake Men and the Horde. The Snake Men are undone -- literally -- with a spell from Orko.

None of the Snake Men are featured on Filmation's animated series, with the exception of Kobra Khan, a snake figure in Skeletor's service introduced earlier in the franchise's run. When the Snake Men were introduced, Kobra Khan was said to be a go-between, working for both Skeletor and King Hiss. The cartoon series had ceased production before the Snake Men could be introduced. Two Snake Men, Rattlor and Tung Lashor, were adapted to appear in the spin-off She-Ra: Princess of Power series, where they worked for Hordak as members of the Evil Horde, portrayed as generic warriors with no nod to their Snake Men origins.

The Snake Men play a large role in the second season of the Mike Young Productions cartoon series. The second season was renamed "Masters Of The Universe vs The Snake Men". They are a diverse group led by King Hiss, who prove to be as much a danger as Skeletor, who only makes three appearances through the entire story arc. Similar to the old story, the Snake Men are an ancient threat that plagued Eternia in the distant past until they were locked away in the void by the power of the Elders. The threat of the Snake Men was so ancient that in a way it predated the creation of the Elders themselves during the time of King Grayskull who fought against this menace. However, in this new version, they are presented as a very strong army, who, as well as taking on He-Man, are also at war with Skeletor instead of forging an alliance with him.

To date, a number of the Snake-Men have been released into the Classics series, including King Hiss -- currently spelled "King Hssss", doubtless for copyright reasons -- Rattlor, Kobra Khan, a two-pack of somewhat generic but nevertheless impressive Snake Men soldiers, and now, Snake Face. That still leaves Sssqueeze and Tung Lashor. Hopefully they'll get the nod at some point.

As for Snake Face, he's not exactly the most prominent of the Snake Men. His own ability, that of turning people to a stone-like state, was turned back upon him, leaving him petrified. He never appeared in either of the Filmation series, although he did turn up as part of the 2002-era series.

So, how's the figure? Most impressive. Interestingly, the character is described as "The Most Gruesome of the Snake Men Warriors" And I suppose that can have a number of definitions. I don't really think he's the ugliest. He might well have the creepiest color scheme, and I'll get into that in a few paragraphs. I think here we might well be referring to the manifestation of his ability, which is the fact that these small red snakes shoot out of his eyes, mouth, and near his shoulders. I think that pretty well qualifies as "gruesome".

Obviously, on the original Snake Face figure, the snakes that emerged from his face were part of a spring-action gimmick that was built into the figure itself. The modern Classics figures really don't do that, and in the case of an individual who needs to somehow display his distinctive ability, other solutions need to be devised. In the case of Snake Face, that solution, for the most part, is switchable heads.

The figure is packaged with the "snakes emerging" head mounted to the figure. However, and rather obviously, I find the "non-snake" head a bit more agreeable to look at, so I made a quick switch, and this is the version that I will focus on for the review, although certainly I will deal with the other one.

Snake Face has a surprisingly subdued color scheme, that consists of greens, grays, purples, and black. The only real spot of color on him is his eyes, which are yellow with slit-like red irises.

For a character who's named "Snake Face", his face isn't especially snake-like, at least not compared to some of the other Snake Men. King Hssss wears a human disguise, but underneath it all, his upper body IS snakes. Rattlor, as well as the Snake Men soldiers, all have heads that are distinctly non-human, and very snake-like in appearance. So does Kobra Khan, and for that matter, so do Sssqueeze and Tung Lashor, and I would expect to see that carried over into Classics versions of them should they be made in the future.

But Snake Face's face has more human features. It's still a rather grim shade of gray-green, and it's still very scaly, and certainly his eyes are very snake-like in appearance, but the basic structure of his face is more human. The eyes face forward, rather than being set to the sides, and he has a prominent brow, cheekbones, and a distinctly human-type nose, rather than a more animal-like muzzle. He has an open, deepset mouth, with two sharp fangs protruding from the top, and a relatively human-looking chin and jawline.

Snake Face's scales cover his torso and his upper arms to about the bicep level. Beyond this, his skin is smooth, on his lower arms and on his legs, and it changes from a gray-green color to a more straightforward gray. One almost wonders if Snake Face is some sort of bizarre hybrid between the more reptilian Snake Men and something more human. On Eternia, I think almost anything's possible.

Snake Face is wearing an armored vest, black in color, that was clearly created specifically for this figure, and which has a metallic green Snake Men emblem on the chest. It's an impressive piece of work, nicely detailed, and highlighted here and there with some gloss black paint.

Snake Face is wearing a scaled loincloth, common to a number of the Snake Men, and used in place of the furry loincloths favored by others in the Masters line. He has a narrow belt, painted in metallic green.

Snake Face's feet are the three-toed clawed variety, seen on any number of bad guys in the line, and he is wearing boots that are a dark turquoise in color.

Of particular interest are Snake Face's arms. I was certain that the upper arms, with their scales and even slight fins, had likely been used before, and perhaps they have been. But after a cursory check of my own collection, I couldn't figure out on who. The logical candidates -- other Snake Men, Whiplash, Clawful, and a few others, were eliminated. I haven't checked everybody, but I'm starting to think that Snake Face's upper arms might be unique, although I wouldn't be surprised to see them turn up again in the future.

Certainly Snake Face's lower arms are unique. Gray in color, they have these bright green snakes coiled around them that wend their way up past the elbows, with their heads protruding upwards well past the articulation point. It's a fascinating design, and really well made, and neatly painted.

Snake Faces outfit is completed with a helmet, looking surprisingly similar in basic shape to Man-At-Arms'. However, this helmet is green in color, with a metallic green snake emblem on the top, and on each side, the heads and upper bodies of five bright green snakes, all facing forward. Their tails descend from the rear of the helmet in the very back.

Now, let's discuss Snake Face's power, which is to cause a series of little red snakes to protrude from his eyes, mouth, and near his shoulders, thus causing his enemies to become paralyzed in a stone-like state.

This required a second head. The helmet is the same as before. Since it was molded as a separate piece, there was no reason not to use it a second time. One alteration was made, in that the tails of the snakes were removed to make room for a tab for the "shoulder snakes" to be mounted, so they appear to be coming around the sides of the head near the shoulders.

But what's interesting is that the face is pretty much the same, too -- right down to the pattern of the scales... and yes, I checked. Now, some modification was necessary here, especially to allow for the snakes to be coming out of the eye sockets. But basically, it's the same headsculpt.

Clearly, the snakes were all molded separately, and inserted during figure assembly. They're quite long, slender, a sort of brick-red-orange in color, and mean-looking, all with open mouths and little fangs. It's really some excellent sculpting and detail work. They're moderately flexible, but I would recommend careful handling. I don't know what it would take to break one of these off, and I suspect you don't want to find out any more than I do.

Overall paint and detail work on the figure is excellent, even if the color scheme is one of the darker and grimmer that I've seen. Of course, Snake Face is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.

Snake Face comes with a couple of accessories besides the spare head. He has a huge staff with a large green snake coiled around it, and it looks very much like a recoloration of the one carried by King Hssss himself, so you sort of wonder why Snake Face would want to wave something this regal-looking around, since that's sort of asking for trouble.

He also comes with a small shield. This is really an amazingly detailed piece of work. It's only about 2 inches in diameter, but it appears to be made of a series of eight bright green snakes, spread out over the expanse of the shield itself. The intricacy of the sculpting is truly excellent.

There are also two small red snakes, and at first, I wasn't entirely sure what these were for. They had pegs at their bases, and I finally figured out that these fit -- one at a time, anyway -- into Snake Face's mouth. So even when he's not doing his full-on snake act, he can still stick his tongue out at you. I suppose there's two of these since it's a pretty small part that looks like it could get lost.

Snake Face's character bio on the back of his package reads as follows:

SNAKE FACE - Most Gruesome of the Snake Men Warriors

Originally a minor training officer in the Unnamed One's Serpent Army, Cyltho Ssstavvve drew King Hssss' attention after he was enchanted with the ability to turn his enemies to stone by the Great Black Wizard. Quickly brought into Hssss' inner circle, Snake Face often acted as the Viper King's second in command during the Great Wars with Grayskull. He was trapped with the entire Snake Army in the Void for five millennia, but eventually was called forth by King Hssss to do battle once again after their release - this time against new enemies - He-Man and the Masters of the Universe! Snake Face slithers after his enemies, then turns him to stone!

That he served as Hssss' second in command is news to me. I always thought that was Rattlor's position. Might explain the staff, though.

I wondered if there was any sort of real-life background for the name "Cyltho". It sounded semi-scientific to me, and there was a sort-of real-life background for Fang Man's name recently, so I ran the name "Cyltho" through WikiPedia -- nothing (except a reference to Snake Face). So I'm assuming it's just something made up by Mattel.

So, what's my final word? I may not like snakes, but I have no problem with the Snake Men, and I'm pleased to add another one to my collection. I am glad that the figure comes with an alternate head, that doesn't have the snakes protruding, since that is a pretty creepy look. But this is an extremely impressive and distinctive figure, and certainly an excellent modern take in this amazing Classics line of the original Masters character. If you're any sort of Masters of the Universe fan, you'll assuredly want to add Snake Face to your collection.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of SNAKE FACE from the SNAKE MEN definitely has my highest recommendation! (Now, how about Sssqueeze and Tung Lashor...?)